Menu JTA Search

Jews in Soviet Lithuania and Latvia Reported Resisting Assimilation

Jews in Lithuania and Latvia, the Baltic countries which were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939, are reported still struggling to resist assimilation, to maintain religious traditions and to continue Jewish cultural activities under Soviet rule despite many difficulties, in a report received here today.

The report says that Judaism, Yiddish and Hebrew are still far from dead in the Vilno and Kovno districts and that their influence is increasingly felt inside Russia where the Jews have for 40 years lived under the assimilating pressure of the Communist steamroller.

Forced assimilation encounters strong opposition from Jews in the incorporated Baltic states and only stimulates them to dreams of emigration to Israel through repatriation to countries of which they were former citizens, the report states. This is especially true of the Jews in the Vilna district where the Soviet authorities reluctantly agree to their repatriation to Poland rather than have these Jews disturb” the process of Jewish assimilation within the Soviet Union.

The revival of Jewish cultural activities and religious practices in the Vilna and Kovno districts cannot be checked by the Soviet authorities because this would require the deportation of whole communities. The local authorities therefore do not hinder the Jews in their cultural and religious activities and have even opened a Yiddish section in the Vilna state library. Nor do they prevent attendance at synagogue services by large numbers of worshippers who include a fair proportion of young people.

Prior to the apparent decision to permit the repatriation of Jews from these annexed districts, cases were reported in which single Jewish families of Polish, Rumanian, Lithuanian or Hungarian origin were removed from Jewish communities in central Russia to isolate such communities from the “nationalist and religious fanatical influences” of Jews determined to keep Jewishness alive, the report states.

While anti-Semitism was officially banned in the incorporated territories, use of the expression “rootless cosmopolitans, ” dropped in describing Russian Jewry after Stalin’s death, continues to be used toward the “liberated” Jews, according to the report. Soviet distrust has resulted in the banning of these Jews not only from Government service but also from the professions and universities and even from factory work, creating severe job problems, the report asserts.

One of the major factors cementing Jewish solidarity in the Baltic districts is an anti-Semitism which is stronger than in Russia proper because it was inherited from Poland and other countries to which the annexed areas once belonged, with the peasantry and intelligentsia as anti-Semitic as ever, the report points out, adding that economic changes also have hit the incorporated Jews. Unlike Jews in Russia, who learned new trades, the Lithuanian and Latvian Jews are still mainly ruined and declassed traders living on petty semi-legal commerce, and artisans most of whom are barely surviving, the report asserts.

NEXT STORY